Sewage taints water for fires

The Harney Volunteer Fire Company's only source of water to fight fires has become contaminated with raw sewage that probably leaked from a neighboring septic system, Carroll County officials said yesterday.

Volunteers detected an odor and discovered raw sewage on the ground around the quarter-acre pond that is about 7 feet deep, said Harney Fire Chief Donald Yingling Sr. Until the source of the problem was discovered, the company had little choice but to fill their equipment from the hydrant at the pond.


Now the company's hoses - even those on the newest engine, a $400,000 combination pumper and foam truck that is the first of its kind in the county - smell like sewer water, Yingling said. For a demonstration of the new engine's capabilities this week, the company borrowed water from Taneytown.

"But there is residual water in the hoses, and it smells," Yingling said. "We can't use the pond now unless we have a real emergency. The water we get out of it is running gray to black."


After taking a walk this week around the pond, which is near the company's fire station, the deputy director of the county's environmental health bureau said he did not have to take samples. "You can tell just from the odor," Charles Zeleski said.

Health officials have worked with the owner of an adjacent property where they discovered a leaking septic system. That leak could be the source of the contamination at the pond, and it has been repaired, Zeleski said.

"We hope that it is one septic system that caused the problem and that it is fixed," Zeleski said. "If this doesn't work, we will have to do more investigating."

Scott Campbell, acting administrator of support services for the Office of Public Safety, said, "I sure hope the Health Department has found the sole source of this problem. We are still not sure how big the leak was and how much sewage got into the pond."

The pond may require aeration to clean up the effects of the sewage spill, Zeleski said. Carroll's Public Works Department has offered to lend a floating aeration system that would push air through the water equipment.

"Aeration is the most likely way to speed up the natural process and get rid of the sewage," Zeleski said.

Franklin Schaeffer, deputy director of public works, said, "At some point, we may have to drain the pond."

Three neighboring homes rely on a septic system that goes through a series of tanks and empties into a field that is within 20 feet of the pond, Yingling said.


"We have done everything in our power to maintain this pond," he said. "But if we were getting sewage from three houses pumped into it, there was not much we could do."

Harney responds to an average of 200 calls a year, many of which are field or brush fires in the predominantly rural area. Fortunately, the wet summer has meant a decrease in those calls, but Yingling added, "We have to be ready for whatever is coming."